The Septic's Companion | British Slang Dictionary

A British slang dictionary: The Letter C

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Play audio cack: n shit: I’ve cacked myself; the club was okay but the music was cack. Well known in the U.K. but perhaps not all that widely used.

Play audio cack-handed: clumsy; ineptly executed. Likely derived from a time when the left hand was used for cleaning one’s posterior after movements, and the right hand reserved for anything else. Therefore anything executed with the left hand is perhaps sub-standard. Almost all scatological etymologies are historically false, but they’re more amusing than the polite ones. The sad truth of life is that more of our language derived from the Viking term for “baking tray” than some sort of acronym which spelled “FUCK.”

Play audio camp: adj effeminate and homosexual. If you have heard of an Englishman (and latterly New Yorker) named Quentin Crisp, he was the very epitome of camp. And even if you haven’t heard of him, he still was. Americans will say “flaming” or “swishy” to mean much the same thing, though interestingly some Americans do use “campy” to describe old-fashioned or preposterous humour.

Play audio camper van: n motorised caravan in which you can take your entire family for a horrible holiday. Americans call them “R.V.s,” but the average European camper is significantly smaller than the average American one. Also, the average European is, of course, smaller than the average American, as proven by statistics.

Play audio candy floss: n cotton candy. The revolting foodstuff one can buy at fairgrounds which resembles a giant blob of fibreglass wrapped around a stick.

Play audio canteen: n cafeteria.

Play audio car boot sale: n merry event where people get together in a field and sell the rubbish from their attic, under the secret suspicion that some part of it might turn out to be splendidly valuable. Not entirely dissimilar to a jumble sale. The term stems no doubt from the fact that this is normally carried out using the boot of your car as a headquarters. This sort of nonsense is now largely replaced by eBay, where you can sell the 1950s engraved brass Hitler moustache replica your father was awarded for twenty years’ service in the post office without actually having to meet the freak who bought it.

Play audio car park: n parking lot. The large buildings composed of many floors of just parking spaces are called “multi-storey car parks” in the U.K. but “parking garages” in the U.S.

Play audio caravan: 1 n terrible device which attaches to the back of your car and allows you to take your whole family on holiday at minimal expense and with maximum irritability. They’re more popular in Europe than they are in the U.S., where they’re called “trailers.” Be careful not to confuse a touring caravan (which a family will generally keep outside their house and drag behind their normal car somewhere for a few holidays a year) with a static caravan, which is generally deposited once by a truck and left there. Americans call both of these things “trailers,” and where a distinction is needed they’ll call the touring variants “travel trailers.” The devices that Americans call a “fifth wheel” — caravans which attach to a conventional diesel truck — are pretty much non-existent in the U.K. Another caravan variant common to both sides of the Atlantic is the “trailer tent,” which is like a caravan except the walls and roof fold out like some sort of ghastly mobile puppet theatre. No doubt you’re much less confused now. I could go on about caravans for days. 2 v the act of staying in a caravan: Doris has taken it into her head to go caravanning this weekend.

Play audio cardie: n abbr cardigan. A common abbreviation, at least for anyone who still wears cardigans.

Play audio carrier bag: n shopping bag. Can’t think of anything witty.

Play audio cashpoint: n ATM: Be there in a minute, I have to nip to the cashpoint.

Play audio casual: n Scottish bad egg, nogoodnik. Pretty close Scottish equivalent to “yob,” with the notable exception that casuals will actually refer to themselves as such while yobs certainly would not. Dotted around Edinburgh is graffiti advertising the services of the “Craiglockart Casual Squad.” Craiglockart isn’t one of the worst areas of Edinburgh, so perhaps their modus operandi is to turn up and insult your intelligence, or throw truffles through your windows.

cat’s eyes: n little reflectors mounted in the centre of the road, amid the white lines. When you’re driving along at night your headlights reflect in them to show where the road goes. When you’re driving like a screaming banshee they gently bounce the car up and down in order to unsettle it, causing you subsequently to lose traction and crash the rented 1.3-litre VW Polo through a fence and into a yard. Everything goes black — your senses are dead but for the faint smell of petrol, and the dim glow of a light coming on in the farmhouse. Somewhere in the distance a big dog barks. As you slowly regain consciousness, you find that you’re in a soft bed, surrounded by candles and with a faint whiff of incense drifting on the breeze from the open window. You see a familiar face peering down at you — could it be Stinky Potter, from down by the cottages? Wasn’t that corner just about where they found poor old Danny’s motorbike? And how does this guy know your name? If you try to run, roll the dice and turn to page seventeen. If you choose to kiss the old man, turn to page twelve.

Play audio central reservation: n median. Far from being a sought-after restaurant booking, this is in fact what Brits call the grassy area in the centre of a motorway which is there to stop you colliding with oncoming traffic quite as easily as you might.

Play audio champion: adj Northern England great; wonderful: Ooh, those sausages were champion!

Play audio chancer: n risk-taker, someone who tends to take the kind of chances that involve things on the greyer side of society — the sort of person who buys random domain names in the hope someone will offer them a pile of money for them, or puts all their money on the rank outsider in the 12:45 at Chepstow.

Play audio chap: n upper-crust equivalent of “bloke.” Nowadays only really seen in a tongue-in-cheek way or in 1950s Enid Blyton children’s books. It would read something along the lines of: I say chaps, let’s go and visit that strange old man with the raincoat at Bog End Cottage and see if he has any more special surprises for us! Jolly hockeysticks.

Play audio charva: n newish word in the U.K. to describe a range of people much similar to pikeys. From Romany (spoken by the Roma people, i.e. gypsies) for “child.” Used in 1960s London to mean “fuck,” as evinced by the Derek Raymond Factory series of novels.

Play audio chat up: v make conversation with someone of the opposite sex with the intention of endearing yourself to them: Arthur spent the whole bloody night chatting up some bird in a wig. chat up line an opening gambit intended to attract the opposite sex. Given that opening lines have a near-zero chance of attracting anyone of the opposite sex, it’s a popular pastime amongst British women regurgitating the very worst chat up lines they’ve encountered.

Play audio chav: n variant of “charva.”

Play audio cheeky: adj risqué; just short of rude. You’re being cheeky if you make a joke that you can only just barely get away with without getting into trouble.

Play audio cheerio: interj goodbye. Fairly old-fashioned and light-hearted. Originates from the 1970s, when one of the favourite killing methods of the Welsh mafia was to intravenously inject the victim with breakfast cereal.

Play audio cheers: interj informal substitute for “thank you.” Somehow derived from its use as an all-purpose toast.

Play audio chemist: n 1 drugstore; pharmacist. The American term “drugstore” implies to Brits that you could just buy Class A narcotics over the counter. These days it’s also acceptable in Britain to call the place a “pharmacy.” 2 a person who works with chemicals (universal).

Play audio chest of drawers: n dresser. Just so that one single device can have not one, but two slightly illogical names.

Play audio Chesterfield: n hard, deep-buttoned leather sofa. The sort of thing you could imagine Sherlock Holmes sitting in.

Play audio chipolata: n small sausage. The term originated in Mexico, but somehow never made it big in the U.S.

Play audio chippy: 1 n fish-and-chip shop. 2 n colloq carpenter. Americans use this word (at least those on the East Coast) to describe a woman of somewhat suboptimal morals; this derives from its original meaning of an Old West saloon prostitute, commonly paid in poker chips. All this is of minimal relevance here, as that meaning isn’t used in the U.K.

Play audio chips: n French fries. However, it’s lately been popular to call thin chips “fries” in the U.K, so Brits at least know what “fries” are these days. Classic chips can be obtained from a chip shop (“chippy”) and are a great deal unhealthier. They also vary quite creatively — if you buy them at 9 p.m. they are hard, black and crunchy (because they’ve been cooking since 6:30 p.m., when the dinner rush came through) but if you buy them at 3 a.m. you will find them very akin to raw potatoes, right down to the green bits in the middle (because the chippy employees want all of these drunk punters out of the door so they can go home).

Play audio chivvy on: v hurry someone along with something. If you want an example, you can have this: I was pretty sure I’d be up until 1 a.m. daydreaming instead of doing my homework, but my mum chivvied me on with it and I was done fairly early.

Play audio chock-a-block: adj closely packed together. You might use this to describe your dating schedule or your attic, unless you are unforgivably ugly and you live in a flat, in which case you’d have to think up something else to use it on. The examples here are provided as-is, you know; they don’t necessarily work for everyone. It’s possible that the word has a quite unfortunate origin — it may have originally referred to the area where black slaves were once lined up on blocks to be sold. It’s also possible that it stems from maritime usage, referring to when a block and tackle were jammed against each other to stop the load moving.

Play audio chocolate drops: n chocolate chips. The idea of “chocolate chips” is enough to turn most British stomachs. The American candy called a “chocolate drop,” but it doesn’t have a lot to do with British chocolate drops.

Play audio Christmas cracker: n (ah, how to describe these…) bit of fancily-coloured paper wrapped much like a lozenge, with twisted ends. A small sort of explosive device is put inside a cracker so that when two people pull at alternate ends, the whole thing comes apart with a snapping noise and — ah, the joy — a small piece of trinket crap falls out. This will be something like an ineffectual miniature sewing kit, a set of blunt nail clippers or one of these mysterious “get the bits of metal apart” puzzles, which will cause some degree of interest from the surrounding family until someone realises it’s very easy to get them apart because it was made in China and came out of the factory bent. As the name suggests, these are mainly used at Christmas but sometimes pop up at birthday parties and the like.

chucking it down: v pouring; raining heavily: Walk? Are you mad? It’s chucking it down out there!

Play audio chuff: 1 v fart. 2 n one’s posterior. 3 n Northern England vagina. 4 interj general swear word usable much the same as “fuck”: It was all going fine until the chuffing pigs turned up. Entirely separate from the word “chuffed,” so use with care.

Play audio chuffed: adj generally happy with life. Make sure you only use this word in the correct tense and familiarise yourself with the meaning of the word “chuff,” too (see previous entry). For antonym see “dischuffed”.

Play audio cider: n alcoholic apple juice. To Brits all cider is alcoholic — there’s no such thing as “hard cider” in Britain, and any non-alcoholic apple juice is called simply “apple juice.” Cider is often mixed with a small amount of blackcurrant syrup to form a drink imaginatively titled “Cider and black”.

Play audio clap: n applaud. In the U.K., to “give someone a clap” means to applaud them. Analogous to U.S. English’s “give someone a hand.” Not to be confused with giving someone “the clap,” which means the same thing on both sides of the Atlantic.

Play audio clobber: n clothing; vestments. You might hear: OK, OK, I’ll be out in two minutes once I’ve got my nightclubbing clobber on. It’s possible this definition is of Scottish origin. Brits do also use “clobber” to mean hitting something.

Play audio close: n pron. as in “close to me,” rather than “close the door” residential street with no through road; cul de sac. Brits also share all of the usual meanings of the word.

Play audio coach: n bus. Generally used in the U.K. for longer-haul buses (50 miles or more). The difference between a coach and a “bus” is that a coach tends to have a loo, not so much chewing gum attached to the seats and fewer old ladies hacking up phlegm in the back. Brits do not use coach to refer to economy-class seats on an aircraft; that’s a peculiar American thing.

Play audio cobblers: n rubbish; nonsense. An informal term; you’d be more likely to use it in response to your mate’s claim that he can down fifteen pints in a sitting than while giving evidence in a murder trial. Possibly Cockney rhyming slang, from “cobbler’s awls” / “balls.” This may be true. Who knows?

Play audio cock a snook: v thumb one’s nose. A display of contempt, normally expressed at some sort of authority: Between you and me, I think the eight-foot bronze penis Harry made was less about art and more about cocking a snook at Norwich City Council.

Play audio cock about: v fool around; mess about: Where the heck’s Bob? / I think he’s in the garage cocking about with that ridiculous jet-powered go-kart that he bought on eBay.

Play audio cock-up: v make a complete mess of something: I went to a job interview today and cocked it up completely. Brits also use the phrase “balls-up” to mean the same thing. Ironically enough, however, “balls-up” is seen as a lot less rude.

cockerel: n rooster. Male chicken. Also abbreviated to cock, mostly in order to make jokes centered around “the next-door neighbour’s cock wakes me up every morning” and such like.

Play audio Cockney: n person from the East End of London. Strictly speaking, someone “born within the sound of the bells of Bow Church.” A more modern definition might be “born within the sound of a racist beating,” “born in the back of a stolen Mercedes” or perhaps “born within the range of a Glock semi-automatic.” Cockneys have a distinctive accent, which other Brits are all convinced that they can mimic after a few pints.

codger: n grouch. Belligerent old bugger. The old codger next door decided my hedge was too tall and set fire to it last Wednesday!

Play audio codswallop: n nonsense. The etymology of this antiquated but superb word leads us to an English gentleman named Hiram Codd, who in 1872 came up with the idea of putting a marble and a small rubber ring just inside the necks of beer bottles in order to keep fizzy beer fizzy (“wallop” being Old English for beer). The idea was that the pressure of the fizz would push the marble against the ring, thereby sealing the bottle. Unfortunately, the thing wasn’t nearly as natty as he’d hoped and “Codd’s wallop” slid into the language first as a disparaging comment about flat beer and eventually as a general term of abuse.

Play audio colleague: n co-worker. In here because Brits do not use the term “co-worker.” Of no relevance at all is the fact that Brits also do not refer to the hosts of television news programmes as “anchors,” which caused my British boss some confusion when he became convinced that the CNN presenter had handed over to her “co-wanker.”

Play audio college: n an educational establishment which specialises in single-year studies between school and university.

Play audio collywobbles: n spine-tingling fear; heebie jeebies. Originally meant the act or fear of having an unexpected and uncontrolled bowel movement. Which does make one wonder whether “colly” is an accepted abbreviation for “colon.” Probably isn’t. I’m done with the wondering now.

Play audio concessions: n discounts you might get on things if you’ve been there before, are a student, are over sixty or such like. Brits do not use the U.S. definition (snacks you buy during a film or sporting event). Often abbreviated “concs,” to confuse American tourists attending crappy mainstream musicals in the West End.

conkers: n a game in which two combatants, each armed with the nut-shaped seed of a horse chestnut tree on a string, take turns to whack the opponent's nut with theirs until one breaks. Yes, it's a little odd. Yes, there is very little skill involved. Let me know if you have any other questions.

Play audio cooker: n machine that does the actual cooking of your food. While this is a peculiarly British term, “oven” is used both in the U.K. and the U.S. to mean exactly the same thing.

Play audio cool box: n cooler. The device one carries to picnics and uses to keep cold things cold: Was there a particular reason why you put the biscuits in the cool box and left the beer in the sun?

Play audio cop off: v snog; French kiss: I could swear I saw Ian’s dad copping off with some woman at the cinema the other day. The phrase may be derived from a contraction of “copulate.” Of course, it doesn’t mean “copulate,” so perhaps not.

Play audio copper: n policeman. May come from the copper buttons policemen originally wore on their uniforms; may also be derived from the Latin “capere,” which means “to capture.” In turn, the American word “cop” may be derived from copper, although may equally easily be an abbreviation for “Constable on Patrol” or “Constable of the Police.” There. I don’t think I committed to anything.

Play audio cor: interj ooh! Once a part of the phrase “cor blimey,” this is now used on its own to mean something like “ooh!” And here was you thinking that was some sort of typo.

Play audio cor blimey: interj rather older-fashioned term of surprise: Cor blimey, I thought he was going to drive straight into us! Has mostly migrated these days into just “blimey” or, more rarely, “cor.”

Play audio coriander: n cilantro. The herb that tastes like soap, and redefines the term “edible.” Americans still call the fruit of the plant “coriander” but not the leaves.

Play audio cot: n crib. Americans call a sort of frame camp bed a “cot.” Brits don’t. I’d say they just called it a “camp bed,” as God intended. I’m guessing that he intended that. The Bible is fairly ambiguous about which day God chose to create camp beds.

cottaging: v picking up gay partners in public restrooms. George Michael is possibly the most famous cottager in recent times. A peculiarly male trait, the term likely derives from the fact that public toilets used to look like nice little cottages.

Play audio cotton buds: n cotton swabs, or “Q-Tips.” When I came back from Tenerife with an ear infection I deduced had come from swimming in the sea, I got a telling-off from the doctor for attempting to cure myself with the aid of some cotton buds. According to the doctor, you should “never put anything at all into your ear smaller than your elbow.” Medical advice dispensed here at no extra cost.

Play audio cotton wool: n cotton ball — the little furry blob that women use to remove makeup and men use to clean inlet manifolds.

Play audio council house: n public housing, projects. Housing built by the government and meted out to the needy, so they can reproduce and smoke pot in it. In the U.K. such projects were largely the brainchild of a Labour government, but when the Conservatives took power in 1979 they had the fantastic idea of allowing the tenants (generally working-class Labour voters) the option of buying their council houses at a discount to market value, which proved wonderfully popular. It also made it rather tricky for Labour to reverse the plan when they attained power in 1997, as it had made a great many of their upstanding supporters substantially richer.

Play audio courgette: n zucchini. I wonder if there’s anything behind the fact that these words both look like they ought to be sports cars. I’m sure someone’s written a thesis on it somewhere.

Play audio court shoes: n pumps. Lightweight heeled women’s dress shoes with enclosed toes.

Play audio cowboy: n dishonest and incompetent tradesman: I’m not surprised it exploded, it was installed by a bunch of cowboys!

Play audio craic: n pron. “crack” fun and frolics to be had with other people; what makes a particular pub fun, or a particular wedding bearable: The pub ended up being a bit shit but the craic was great! From Irish Gaelic, hence the comedy spelling. The popular recreational drug “crack” exists in the U.K., as does the euphemism for vagina. This means endless confusion for many Irish crack whores.

Play audio creche: n day-care. The place you take your children to be looked after, usually while you bumble off and make the money you’ll need to pay for it. The Brits do not use the word to describe a the revolting Christian Christmas scene that your child brought home from school and you’re not sure where to jettison (see “nativity”).

Play audio crikey: interj general expression of surprise. Rather elderly and a little esoteric these days — you can most imagine it being used in a context something like: Crikey, Eustace — looks like Cambridge are going to win after all! It may be derived from “Christ kill me.” It also may not.

Play audio crisps: n potato chips, or any of the corn-based equivalents. It’s worth bearing in mind that crisps in the U.K. cover a wide variety of flavours from Worcester Sauce to steak, and are not restricted to tasting anything like a potato. In fact, producing something that tastes anything like a potato is probably a sacking offence in the crisp factory. This particular confusion has caused me no end of troubles in the U.S. — I’ve never been so disappointed with a “bag of chips” in my life.

Play audio cropper: n sudden failure. Only really used in the phrase “come a cropper,” e.g., Your uncle Arthur came a cropper on his motorcycle one evening after a few beers! It means something particularly bad has happened to the person in question. Most likely they died.

Play audio crumbs: interj general expression of surprise. Much akin to “God,” or “bloody hell” in that context (but without the ghastly use of our saviour’s name in vain or any swearing). It’s quite all right to use in polite company, though perhaps a little antiquated. More likely to be heard in a context like: Crumbs, that’s more expensive than Harrods rather than: Crumbs, I just dropped the smack out the window.

Play audio crumpet: n 1 small teacake made of pancake batter, but with raising agents added to make holes. 2 loose woman. Coming from rhyming slang for “strumpet” (a woman adulterer), crumpet refers to women in a similar (although a little more old-fashioned) way to “totty.” Suffice to say that if you were out looking for some crumpet of an evening, you wouldn’t be intending sleeping alone. In fact, you may not be intending to sleep at all. Despite it meaning, primarily, a small teacake, it would be difficult to mention such a teacake in the U.K. without someone at the table collapsing in fits of giggles.

Play audio cuppa: n cup of tea: Surely you have time for a cuppa?

Play audio curly braces: n braces. {these things}. This is just one small part of a whole category of cross-continental disasters – see “square brackets”.

Play audio current account: n checking account. The bank account into which you deposit your salary, only to have it seep away gently through the porous floor of the bank.

Play audio curtains: n any cloth covering a window. Brits don’t call the longer ones “drapes.”

Play audio custard: n sort of yellowy-looking dessert sauce made from egg yolks and milk. It does sound a little disgusting, but you’ll have to believe me that it’s not. Brits pour it on top of things like apple crumble and sponge cakes.

Play audio cutlery: n silverware. Knives and forks and stuff. Brits therefore do not have the curious American concept of “plastic silverware.”

Play audio CV: n résumé. C.V. stands for the Latin curriculum vitae, “life’s work.” Brits don’t use “résumé” at all. In North America the term “C.V.” is sometimes used to refer to a fairly regimented timeline of academic achievement.